Seven Victories for Democrats to Build On

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Food SystemClimate and EnergyClean Water

by Mia DiFelice
Editors note: A version of this content first appeared on Food & Water Action’s website, our affiliated organization

For the past two years, Congress has been divided by the narrowest of margins. During those years, a few conservative Democrats dictated the terms of legislation, slowing down our climate agenda. But even with that narrow Democratic majority and a moderate Democratic president, we’ve made important progress.

That progress is a testament to our movements’ organizing efforts. We’ve pushed our leaders in Washington and nationwide to hear us on clean water, safe food, and a livable climate. 

The victories of the past two years are a starting point. Many have gone under the radar, but they were only possible because of the Democrats in national office. Moving forward, here are seven victories for us to build on:

1. Phasing Out Single-Use Plastics on Public Lands

In June, the Department of Interior issued an order to phase out single-use plastics on public lands by 2032. Plastics are almost entirely derived from fossil fuels and only 10% of all plastic ever made has been recycled. Moreover, plastics break down in our soils and wash into our waterways, polluting our environment, our food and our bodies.

This order will help protect our national parks and wildlife refuges from toxic plastic pollution, while reducing demand for plastic nationwide.

2. An Unprecedented Deployment of Clean Energy Funds

Under the Defense Production Act, Biden authorized the Department of Energy to grow U.S. production of clean energy technologies. This includes tech for both renewable power and conservation, like heat pumps and insulation. 

Biden’s use of the Defense Production Act signals that the executive branch is finally prepared to treat climate change as it is: an existential threat to be met with a whole-of-government approach. And it recognizes that an energy transition is too dire to leave to private corporations and a wily market.

3. The House Holds Big Oil Accountable for Its Lies

For decades, fossil fuel corporations have grown profits by spreading lies about the climate crisis. But in September 2021, the House Oversight Committee began investigating their history of deceit. 

The Committee, led by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), will finally hold the industry accountable for profiting billions of dollars off lies that have kept us dependent on their climate-wrecking products. 

4. Biden’s EPA Starts Regulating Toxic PFAS

In 2022, the Biden administration set new advisory levels for several PFAS chemicals. PFAS are toxic and don’t break down in the environment. Yet, manufacturers have produced products with PFAS in them for decades. 

The EPA’s long-awaited advisory levels come closer to the research that maintains no level of PFAS are safe. While we face a long road ahead to tackle our PFAS problem, the EPA has taken vital first steps.

5. Proposed Rule Will Tighten Emissions Controls

In November 2021, the EPA proposed a new Clean Air Act rule to tackle climate pollution from the oil and gas industry. The rule would restrict emissions of not only new oil and gas projects, but — for the first time ever — existing ones as well. 

The rule particularly targets methane emissions, which is integral to fighting climate change. The methane emitted from U.S. fossil fuel industry has a greater climate impact than all greenhouse gasses emitted by 164 other countries combined. Additionally, the EPA’s new rule targets toxic air pollution like volatile organic compounds. Such pollution disproportionately sickens low-income communities and communities of color.

6. Assistance for Environmental Justice Communities

During the first half of Biden’s term, the administration grew funding for environmental justice communities historically excluded from federal assistance. It created the first-ever Environmental Justice Advisory Council and announced the Justice40 initiative. The initiative commits 40% of benefits from federal climate and sustainability programs to EJ communities. 

These commitments have already led to on-the-ground change. For example, the USDA and EPA are working on a new guidance and pilot for rural wastewater projects. 

7. Biden Takes Action Against Monopolies and Corporate Greed 

In 2021, an executive order outlined 70 federal actions to foster competitive markets. As Food & Water Watch and our allies reported, just a few corporations hold outsized market power in our food system. And this market power enables unjust practices to thrive.

But now, the Biden administration is targeting this market power with investigations, regulations, and legislation. For instance, the USDA proposed changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act that would give them more tools to stop meat corporations’ abusive practices. These changes would also strengthen rural economies, ensure food security, and empower family farms.

We Can and Will Move Further on Food, Water, and Climate

Democrats have achieved a lot in the past two years, but we have a long road ahead of us. To build on these victories, Food & Water Watch is working through multiple angles.

We’re shutting down fossil fuel infrastructure, supporting frontline communities, and taking polluting industries to court. At the same time, we’re publishing hard-hitting research while working with lawmakers (local, state, and federal) to craft bold legislation. 

Most importantly, we’re doing what we do best — building people power to fight for a livable future for all. With strong grassroots organizing, we will continue to move the needle.

When it comes to the climate crisis, clean water, and a sustainable, just food system, we need bold action. That requires leaders who will take on the fossil fuel industry and big agribusiness. And it requires leaders who will use their power to bring about meaningful and lasting solutions. 

We must continue pressuring our leaders to be bold. That’s the only way we’ll see more and greater victories like these. 

With your help, we’ll have plenty of wins ahead of us!

PFAS: No Sticking, No Staining … And Not Going Anywhere

Categories

Food SystemClean Water

By Mia DiFelice

The story begins in 1938, with the accidental invention of Teflon. Made famous by the miraculous “nonstick” cookware, Teflon flooded American kitchens in the 1960s. But Teflon’s stick- and stain-fighting power comes from the chemical PFOA. As Teflon sold the miracle of PFOA to consumers, new, similar chemicals flooded the market. Those chemicals, called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are showing up in our baby clothes, our burger wrappers, our blood. And they’re not going away any time soon.

Is That a Bad Thing?

Very — and PFAS manufacturers have known this for a long time. In 2005, the EPA fined Dupont, the maker of Teflon, $16.5 million. The fine penalized Dupont for covering up decades of studies that linked PFOA to cancer, birth defects and liver damage. Dupont and 3M, the maker of another PFAS chemical, knew back in the ’60s that these substances could be dangerous.

Now, we see studies linking PFAS to thyroid disease, decreased fertility, endocrine disruption, cognitive problems and immune system impacts (for example, reduced response to vaccines). There is even evidence linking PFAS exposure to greater risk of COVID and more severe COVID symptoms.

Despite this research, the U.S. still lacks federal regulations for PFAS. Chemical companies can keep information on PFAS close to the chest, so we often can’t know if a product we purchase contains the chemicals. Our federal government does not regulate all industrial PFAS wastewater discharges, either. On top of that, it has not designated PFAS as hazardous substances, which would help clean up contamination sites.

Where Do We Find PFAS?

In short, everywhere. If a product is labeled non-stick, stain-resistant or water-resistant, there’s a good chance it contains PFAS. And once PFAS are in the environment, they spread and persist. When we toss garbage with PFAS in it, the chemicals leach from the landfill into our air, water and soil. Then they can get into the groundwater. Scientists have even found PFAS in places thought to be undamaged by humans, like the Arctic and the deep ocean. In the U.S., researchers estimate they’re in 97% of people’s blood.

And PFAS, also called “forever chemicals,” are nearly impossible to get rid of. If a manufacturer stopped using PFAS right now, they could still find traces in products coming out of that plant a decade later.

The Stuff We Buy

Stain-resistant and water-resistant fabrics usually have PFAS. For instance, a recent study found 60% of fabrics used in children’s products labeled “waterproof” or “stain-resistant” contained PFAS. When PFAS-treated upholstery or carpeting wears down, we inhale the dust. We can eat PFAS when they slide off our water-resistant food packaging. They’re also in our cosmetics and our toiletries, where they are most likely to get into our systems through our eyes.

The Food We Eat

When we flush products with PFAS down the drain, the chemicals build up in our sewers. Many wastewater treatment plants filter out the solids and clean the water. But those solids have to go somewhere, and often, they go to farms. Farms have long-used sewer sludge as fertilizer. As a result, the Environmental Working Group estimates that 20 million acres of US cropland could be contaminated with PFAS. The chemicals now appear in the crops of PFAS-affected farmland — and in the meat and milk of animals that eat those feed crops.

The Water We Drink

In 2021, EWG found PFAS contaminants in the public and private water of all 50 states. We might drink from the tap several times a day, so if PFAS are in the water, our bodies are continuously contaminated. Researchers have found PFAS in the drinking water of towns near factories that work with the chemicals. They’ve found the chemicals in the drinking water of towns near military bases, which use PFAS-laden firefighting foam for training exercises. We depend on water to survive — our government should not allow it to be laced with toxic forever chemicals.

What Can We Do About PFAS?

Many companies have voluntarily phased out PFAS, especially in the last twenty years as their dangers came to light. However, the EPA has not set a legal limit for PFAS in drinking water, nor required manufacturers to help clean up contamination.

In 2021, the agency released its “PFAS Strategic Roadmap,” committing the agency to several measures to combat PFAS in the next few years. And just this week, it designated $1 billion of Infrastructure Bill funds to help local communities address PFAS. In the same announcement, the EPA published health advisories on four major PFAS chemicals — but this is out of thousands in the family.

While these are important steps in the right direction, the advisories aren’t enforceable, and communities have already waited decades for action. There is so much more work to be done. 

Food & Water Watch calls for:
  1. PFAS to be regulated as a class of chemicals, not on an individual level. Much of the work on PFAS so far has focused on PFOA and PFOS, allowing dozens of other PFAS to come onto the market with little scrutiny. When PFOA came under fire, Dupont was quick to replace it with GenX, shorter-chain compounds that share many of the same toxic traits as its sibling chemicals. But GenX may be even more toxic and could be more difficult to remove from drinking water. Without addressing PFAS as a category, the EPA will continue playing whack-a-mole with the thousands of varieties.
  2. Enforceable national drinking water limits, not only for legacy PFAS chemicals but all the chemicals in the family.
  3. Hazardous substance designation under the Superfund law for PFAS as class to jump start the cleanup of contaminated areas. 
  4. Passage of the WATER Act, which provides greater support for local water systems to test and treat for PFAS in drinking water and wastewater systems. This support must reach both public water utilities and household wells. If remediation isn’t possible, Congress must provide support to connect communities with contaminated water  to new, clean water sources. 

We need more funding and better policy for PFAS. Tell Congress to pass the WATER Act!

1. OUR RIGHT TO CLEAN, AFFORDABLE WATER

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Clean Water

Our right to clean, affordable water

Water is a human right and it should never be withheld from anyone.

Corporations have no business profiting off of what belongs to the people.